Seeing is believing?

Last Sunday after the Epiphany, B
Mark 9:2-9

In the name of God, who reigns over all things seen and unseen.  Amen.

I will admit, I haven’t been watching much of the impeachment trial that’s been happening this week in Washington.  I’ve seen a little here and there, and a touch of analysis about it all on the news here and there, but largely, it’s been off my radar.  It’s not that it’s not important, it just that I can’t spare the mental bandwidth for it these days.

The one thing I have gathered that is remarkable about this trial, is how critical video evidence was to the case being made by the impeachment managers.  It’s something the founders of this nation never could have imagined – charges being explicitly proven or disproven by the ability of the jurors to see what actually happened.  Because seeing is believing.  Or at least, that’s what we’ve been told.

Of course, we know it’s usually not that simple.  Seeing isn’t always believing.  Sometimes that’s the case with video, because of the way it’s been edited.  Michael and I have been re-watching some old seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race lately, and one of the things we’ve marveled at is the way that so-called “reality tv” can edit conversations to make them appear to say something entirely different from what has actually been said.  In the case of Drag Race, it’s used in teasers before commercial breaks.  They edit some conversation to make it sound inflammatory and racy, but after the commercial, when you hear the actual exchange, it’s a lot less dramatic than you’d originally been led to believe.

And, of course, sometimes seeing isn’t believing because beliefs are so ingrained as to make them immovable – even when seeing would suggest a belief should be moved.  That’s how conspiracy theories work.  They massage the victim’s ego a bit – confirming what the victim already believes, and then perniciously slip in more and more extreme lies, until they get tied up into what the victim already holds as true.  Eventually, the lines between truth and lie get so blurred, that the holder of conspiracy theories can’t tell the difference.  No matter what they see, it can’t supersede what they already believe.

But today, in each of the lessons that we’ve read, seeing shapes believing in profound ways.  The reports of what is seen become the stuff of faith.

In the first lesson today, Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven.  He is leaving the inheritance of the faith in the hands of his student, Elisha.  The story follows the two of them on the last few chapters of their ministry together.  Then, as they reach the end, Elijah asks Elisha if there is anything more that he can do for him before he is taken away.  Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  Elijah, acknowledging that this is a significant thing to asks, ties the request to Elisha seeing him through to the end.  He says, “if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we hear again, that “seeing is believing”.  He says that the Gospel is “veiled” or, in other words, hidden from view, by a spirit of the world that is not the spirit of God from heaven.  He says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  For Paul, the seeing is constantly interlaced with faith in Christ, because Christ is the image of God – Christ is the aspect of God that can be seen.

Finally, the gospel recounts, once again, the story of the transfiguration.  In this story, Jesus climbs a mountain with a couple of his closest and most trusted disciples, and they see the glory of God in Christ in a physical, undeniable way.  They have that exceedingly rare gift of having their faith confirmed – their faith converted into knowledge – because they get to see it evidenced in their very own experience.

But, of course, we know: seeing isn’t always believing.  And, thankfully, seeing isn’t the only path to faith.

Imagine living in world where the only things that were known were those that could be seen.  Pat Hodde, from right here at St. David’s, visited Egypt and saw the pyramids a few years ago.  I heard her talk about them.  But I’ve never seen them for myself.  But my world is richer because I believe that they exist.  It reminds me that the world, both as it currently exists and as it has through the centuries that paved the way before me, is more complex than my own simple experience.  Believing that gives me perspective, and it gives me always more to strive toward.

Even now, as we continue to make our way through this season of pandemic, we’re working to protect ourselves from a danger that is, to most of us, at least, unseen.  But even though we can’t see it, we believe that it exists, because smart people have told us about it and taught us how to protect against it.

If we only relied on what we could see, we would be woefully unprepared to live this life of ours.  The world would be flat and bland and small – and dangerous in ways we could never imagine.  And, if we relied only on what we could see, our faith in the God of heaven and earth and for a life and livelihood beyond just our own would also be small, inconsequential.

But God is bigger than what we can see.  And God is smaller than what we can see.  And the drive we share to make the world better than we found it comes from beyond our own, limited seeing.

We hear stories of faith based in seeing.  And we’ve seen our own share of things that have nurtured our faith.  But it’s truth is beyond seeing.  It’s beyond knowing.  And on the cusp of the season of Lent – on the cusp of reacquainting ourselves with our mortality – it’s helpful to remember that this faith we share, though seen, is beyond what any of us can see alone.  We can only really begin to get a glimpse of it together.  Because that’s where this faith of ours really lives – in the spaces between us; the spaces that tie us together, even when we’re apart, making us an “us”.  It’s something we can never really see.  But God who is the God of all things, seen and unseen, knows that it is true.  May we grow into God’s own knowing.  Amen.